woman looks forlornly out window

© Chris Leslie

Pregnant women and new mothers were among thousands of destitute refugees and asylum seekers supported by the British Red Cross this year.

Between January and March, the Red Cross helped more than 5,400 people without adequate access to food, housing or health care.

Among them were 70 women who received nappies from the Red Cross, and nearly 100 women who were given baby packs.

Alex Fraser, Red Cross director of refugee support, said: “These figures show how our asylum system can leave anyone destitute, even new mothers.

“It’s shameful that bureaucracy and administrative delays are leaving women to rely on charity to eat sufficiently during pregnancy and to buy nappies for their new babies.

“We are extremely concerned by the unnecessary stress this causes to women who are already significantly vulnerable because of the fact they are seeking asylum.”

New mothers at risk

The Red Cross has warned that government plans to cut asylum support could leave even more families with infants in poverty.

Destitute women who are asylum seekers are eligible for small additional financial support during pregnancy.

However, women frequently experience significant delays in receiving these payments.

In one case, the Red Cross gave a woman in Portsmouth cash for food and other essentials when, 40 weeks into her pregnancy, she had received no additional payments.

The Red Cross provided the new mother with a car seat, nappies, baby wipes and money for a taxi when she went into labour.

5,438 refugees were left homeless and hungry in the first quarter of 2017

Fleeing conflict but left destitute

The Red Cross supported destitute refugees and asylum seekers at 50 sites across the UK in the first three months of 2017.

They included people from some of the worst conflict areas in the world, and countries known for political persecution, including Eritrea, Sudan and Syria.

At least 20 per cent of those seen had refugee status, and thus a legal right to protection and to remain in the UK.

Forty two per cent were asylum seekers awaiting a decision on their initial application to remain in the UK.

Why do refugees become destitute?

Whereas refugees have permission to work and claim mainstream benefits in the UK, asylum seekers do not.

They rely on asylum support payments of approximately £37 a week – known as Section 95 support.

The most common reasons for asylum seekers becoming destitute are problems with asylum support payments, or support being stopped or suspended when an asylum claim is refused.

New refugees also frequently become destitute upon being granted leave to remain in the UK. At this point there is a 28–day period before all asylum support, including housing, comes to an end.

The Red Cross has secured a UK Government commitment to review the 28-day window and to evaluate how long it takes new refugees to find work, apply for benefits and find somewhere to live.

Shrinking state support

Financial support for asylum seekers is set to be further restricted when the Immigration Act comes into force.

The Act repeals Section 95 support (accommodation and £37 a week for each family member) for families with children who have been refused asylum.

The Red Cross has been asking for pregnant women and families with children to continue receiving Section 95 support, regardless of their immigration status.